The built-in Notes app on the iPhone is one of the most underutilized tools, often because people are unaware of its capabilities. Collaborate with others in real time, create multipage PDF scans, scan handwritten notes to text — all available options at your fingertips with the free, preinstalled app on your iPhone.
Create a note: To begin, tap the yellow and white notes icon and tap the icon shaped like a square with a pencil in the lower right corner. A blank note will appear allowing you to type or paste text you wish to add to your note, or tap the microphone icon in the bottom right corner to dictate the text. While these functions can be immensely helpful to document ideas, it is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this app.
Select all: Once text is present, press on that text to select it. Extend the selection by dragging the golden lines or press “Select All.” Options will now include cut, copy, paste and basic formatting of bold, italics and underline. From the black bar that appears, click the arrow for additional options such as “Look Up,” which searches online sources for the highlighted text, or “Translate,” which brings up Apple translation options for multiple languages.
Table: If the data would be better organized in table or spreadsheet format, tap the first icon across the bottom that looks like a table with a black circle. This will insert a table with two columns and two rows into the note. To add additional columns or rows, tap the three dots at the top of the column or side of the row and choose “Add Column” or “Delete Column.”
Formatting: In addition to the standard formatting described in the “Select all” section, more extensive formatting can be applied by tapping the “Aa” icon along the bottom of the note. This provides the option to change font sizes, indentation and create bulleted and numbered lists.
Checklist: While bulleted and numbered lists fit some needs, a checklist is often better. To create an editable to-do list, tap the checklist icon along the bottom of the note. An empty circle will appear ready for the first to-do item to be typed to the right. Press “return” to create a new empty circle for the next to-do item. When tasks are complete, simply tap the empty circle to mark it as complete. By default, completed items stay in place with the checkmark displayed. Alternatively, in iPhone Settings, choose “Notes” and, in the “Sort Checked Items” section, choose “Automatically.” This moves all completed items to the bottom of the list.
Images: Scan to text: By tapping anywhere in the note, a black bar will appear displaying an icon that is an incomplete square with lines in middle. This “scan to text” option automatically activates the camera. Point the camera at a typed or handwritten document and the Notes app will automatically display a preview of the text. If satisfied, click the “Insert” button to add the content to your note as searchable text.
Scan multipage document as PDF: By tapping the camera icon, a photo, either new or existing, can be inserted. Even better, tap the last option to “Scan Documents,” which creates a multipage PDF instantly from the scanned document.
Upon tapping the camera icon and choosing “Scan Documents,” the camera will activate and a yellow-shaded rectangle will appear. By lining up the document with that shading, the phone will auto-capture the picture, or it can be done manually by tapping the white circle. Repeat these steps for all pages. Tap the image preview in the lower left corner to ensure the quality looks good, or tap “Retake” as needed. When all items have been scanned to your satisfaction, tap Save (x), where “x” will display the number of pages to add the images to the note.
Tap the image to crop, rotate or recolor as needed. To preview this as a PDF, tap the inserted image. The file name at top can be changed by tapping it. When ready to send, tap the share button in the upper right corner (rectangle with arrow on top). This can now be emailed, texted or saved to a favorite cloud location.
Markup: The marker icon provides the full range of markup tools customary in the iPhone photo such as marker, highlighter and more. Use your finger or Apple Pencil to draw out markup.
Collaborate with others: While this is personally beneficial, it’s always better with others. Notes can be shared by tapping the three dots at the top of any note and selecting “Share Note.” This allows the note to be shared via a variety of platforms with options for “View only” or “Can make changes.” Sharing a to-do list is especially useful so everyone can view outstanding tasks on a real-time basis.
Find notes: The Notes app also provides several great options to easily find notes in the future:
Pin notes: By pinning a note, the app prioritizes the note placement, making it more quickly accessible. To do this, tap the three dots and choose “Pin.”
Find in Note: “Find in Note” is also available from the three dots at top, allowing a phrase to be searched within the active note.
Search across notes: To search across all notes, type a phrase in the search bar of the main notes area.
You get what you pay for is often the case, but occasionally, we find hidden gems that were there all along.•
• Deanna Marquez ([email protected]) is a co-owner of the Indianapolis based legal technology company Modern Information Solutions LLC. Areas of service include traditional IT services, software training and litigation support including trial presentation services. Opinions expressed are those of the author.